Viv runs down the short steps, climbs into the car, long hair loose and blowing.
“This is gonna take some getting used to,” Mom says. “That boy sure looks out of place.”
The paradox of Seashell. He does and he doesn’t. Precisely the sort of car that belongs on the island, pulled into exactly the driveway where it doesn’t. Not Viv in the place she’s always been, all she ever wanted, or Nic in the place he was afraid would be all he had.
I stand on the steps of the Field House for a few minutes, work-ing up my courage, raise my hand to knock but, before I can, it flips inward, so that I basically fall into Cass, who’s opening it with a blue plastic recycling bin balanced on his shoulder.
“Hey,” I say.
He sets the bin down on the steps, straightens. He’s backlit from the indoor light, which picks out the bright of his hair, but leaves his expression in darkness.
Silence. Not even his ingrained politeness is going to get me in the door unless I talk fast. Which I do, so swiftly the words tumble over one another. “I have to tell you some things and ask you some things and you need to let me in.”
He takes a step backward and raises an eyebrow. “Is that an order? Am I Jose here?”
“I’m asking. Not ordering. Can I . . . come in? Because . . .
Cass, just let me in so we don’t have to have this conversa-tion on your steps. Old Mrs. Partridge probably has supersonic hearing.”
He opens the door wider but doesn’t move, so I have to brush past him going in, catching a faint whiff of chlorine, sun-warm skin.
I sit down on the ugly green couch. He sinks into the stained armchair across from me. I tug my skirt lower. He clenches and unclenches his hand.
“I need to ask you a question. No, three.”
“Go for it,” he says briefly.
“You knew about Spence and Viv, didn’t you?”
One quick word. I was expecting an explanation, an excuse.
It takes me by surprise for a second. I press on. “For how long?”
“Since the day after the boathouse. That night. At the B and T. I saw them,” Cass says.
“Okay,” I say. “Next one.”
“Why I didn’t tell you? I—”
“Shh, not that. Did you have condoms that day in the boathouse? Along with the towels and the Dockside Delight? Truth.”
He shuts his eyes. “Yeah. Just in case. I mean, not that that was the goal or all it was, but—I didn’t want to get caught off guard and not be smart. Again. And then, the next day, the next day, Gwen, I find out that there’s this whole thing I can’t tell you. That’ll hurt you. When I’ve already said I’ll be honest, when we’d finally gotten around the roadblocks and it was clear sailing.”
“Mixed metaphor. But I know now. I got it.”
A hint of a smile. “Okay, word girl, got what?”
“You can’t lie. You don’t lie. I just asked you about these awkward things that have gotten in our way before and you told the truth anyhow.”
“I should have before. I just . . . didn’t want Spence and Vivien—or anything—between us. I just wanted . . .”
“Me,” I finish.
“Us,” he says.
We haven’t said everything we need to, but I have to kiss him now. I straighten up, he does the same, take a few steps, just as he does. Loop my fingers around his neck as he pulls my waist close. As always, he smells like everything clean and clear. Soap. Sunshine. The kiss starts carefully, his lips warm against mine, gentle and firm, knowing and calm, but then deepens, turns wild, because that is us too. He sets his hands at the back of my neck and I pull his shoulders closer, my hands on his back, breathing in Cass, this moment, all of it, all of him. I can’t get enough, and, intoxicatingly, it seems as though he can’t either. Not just of kissing me. Of me.
And we don’t talk for a while.
Then . . . “How does this make you feel?” Cass asks, but before I can answer he groans, ducks his head. “I can’t believe I asked that.”
“Was there something wrong with it?” I inquire. “Because I thought it was nice. That you did.”
“Mom’s favorite phrase,” he says, rolling onto his back on the rug. “The therapist thing . . . ‘How does that make you fe-eel?’ She’s great, but I don’t want to think about her right now. Much less sound like her. God.”
He sits up, a little flush on his cheeks over the sunburn. I slip my hand into his hair, ruffle it.
“One last question, honest answer. How come you had never—um—you say you aren’t like Spence, and I get that. But what were you doing at those parties while he was collecting hot tub trophy girls? Recycling the empties?”
Cass snorts. “Hardly. I’m no saint. I just didn’t go, um, the distance.”
I start laughing. “The distance? A swim team metaphor?”
“Could you not laugh? This is awkward enough,” he says, attempting a glare but half smiling.
“Why awkward?” I ask.
“Because . . . well, because . . . I’m thinking you’re asking this because I’m doing something wrong or don’t know what I’m doing or—” He winces, draws his hand quickly across his face, then says hurriedly, “I’m a fast learner, though. I mean, when I care. And I—”
“Cass.” I rest my hand on his cheek. “If we’re going to talk about me having some experience, a little more, than you, can I tell you what I know . . . from experience?”
“That I would so much rather be with someone who cared what he was doing than someone who knew what he was doing.”
And then we’re kissing again.
The crash of thunder startles us apart, for a moment. Then he pulls me back as the rain begins, droplets spattering against the Field House roof. We get up off the couch, walk around slamming windows shut. More rumbles of thunder, lightning.
Another stormy summer.
As I slam the front windows, the ones that look out toward the ocean, I catch sight of what I brought, set down in the bushes near the lawn mower before I climbed the steps. “Oh shit,” I say, hurrying to the door.